Obama points to assault on reason

Picking up on a theme popularized by Al Gore, President Obama recently criticized media journalism for


promoting an “assault on reason” and for contributing to a divided culture.

“The U.S. news media typically applies hackneyed or partisan templates to political issues, often distorting rather than informing the public debate,” reports GlobalResearch:

“President Barack Obama has become the latest politician to put his toe in the raging waters of the media debate, with some mild observations about the powerful role that media outlets play in reporting – and often distorting – political events.

In an interview with The New Republic, Obama stated the obvious: ‘One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates Continue reading “Obama points to assault on reason”

Here come the space monkeys

Iran claimed Monday to have sent a monkey into space. The country previously launched smaller animals into the final frontier, including a rat, worms, and two turtles. “What do space programs look for in animal astronauts?” asks an essay in Slate.com

“Portability, experience in the lab, and coolness under pressure. For more than 60 years, space programs have sent animals into space for the same reason coal miners sent canaries into the coal mine: to test for dangerous conditions. To select which species to send, scientists have long looked for a few key traits. First, the animal astronauts should be small, to fit in a spacecraft’s necessarily compact


quarters. Second, they should be light, to avoid burdening the rocket.Third, scientists choose animals that they’re already used to studying. For example, scientists used Continue reading “Here come the space monkeys”

British stage huge virtual war

Virtual wars are getting more and more commonplace. Kids play soldiers in “Call of Duty” and actual soldiers pilot lethal drones from remote trailers in the U.S.

Now the British are taking virtual warfare to a larger scale, with its army staging the largest virtual battle simulation yet, involving 220 soldiers. The BBC reports thatimgres-2

“The experiment was carried out at the Army’s Land Warfare Centre in Warminster, Wiltshire. The two-hour scenario saw soldiers on computers completing virtual missions in a fictional French town. The Army says the simulation will help it to find out which resources it needs to invest in, once it takes control of its own budget in April 2013.

“’The aim is to understand how various changes have an impact on the speed at which command can respond,’ Continue reading “British stage huge virtual war”

American cats kill billions of birds

imgresWe know this but don’t often admit it: cats are killing machines

In all fairness, some of us like our cats for this reason – ridding our houses rodents or other pests, or at least deterring them. But if you are really, really sensitive about the issue of animal cruelty, letting kitty prowl about outside puts lots of birds and small animals at risk. A story on NPR exposed the ugly details about this. Millions of details, as it turns out:

“Previous studies had suggested that cats kill about 500 million birds a year. Marra’s group came up with something very different. ‘We estimate that cats kill somewhere between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds a year,’ Pete Marra says. ‘For mammals, it’s upward of about 15 billion.’ Continue reading “American cats kill billions of birds”

Danger in the shower

“The other morning, I escaped unscathed from a dangerous situation. No, an armed robber didn’t break into my house, nor did I find myself face to face with a mountain lion during my bird walk. What I survived was my daily shower.”  Thus writes Jared Diamond, whose recent book The World Till Yesterday was recently released. Diamond makes some good points, a few of which are excerpted below:

“You see, falls are a common cause of death in older people like me. (I’m 75.) Among my wife’s and my circle of close friends over the age of 70, one became crippled for life, one broke a shoulder and one broke a leg


in falls on the sidewalk. One fell down the stairs, and another may not survive a recent fall.

“’Really!’ you may object. ‘What’s my risk of falling in the shower? One in a thousand?’ My answer: Perhaps, but that’s not nearly good enough. Continue reading “Danger in the shower”

Boy Scouts consider lifting ban

UnknownJust days after a Maryland-based Cub Scout pack was forced to back down on a non-discriminatory pledge because of a reference to sexual orientation, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) might be changing its national stance toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, reports todays Huffington Post “NBC cites a number of ‘scouting officials and outsiders familiar with internal discussions’ who say a revised BSA policy would not only lift the ban on gay participants from the national youth organization’s rules, but also allow local sponsoring organizations to decide for themselves whether or not to admit gay scouts.

“‘The chartered organizations that oversee and deliver scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with their organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs,’ BSA Director of Public Relations Deron Smith tells the site, adding that individual sponsors and parents ‘would be able to choose a local unit which best meets the needs of their families.’ Continue reading “Boy Scouts consider lifting ban”

Bad habits cause more cancer in men

These days men die five years younger than women, typically expiring at 76  as women live to 81. For the longest time the leading reason was heart disease. But now things are changing. As todays’ Guarding reports:

“Men are 35% more likely to die


from cancer than women, with men’s drinking and eating habits, late diagnosis and advances in breast cancer treatment cited for the stark differential.

An analysis of the most recent UK deaths from cancer found that 202 out of every 100,000 men died from cancer in 2010 compared with 147 per 100,000 women.

“When sex-specific forms of the disease are excluded, such as prostate, testicular and ovarian cancer, the gender gap is even wider, with men 67% more likely to die. And when only working age people are looked at men under 65 have a 58% greater chance of dying than women of the same age. The sexes’ respective likelihood of death varies depending on the type of cancer. Men are almost three times as likely as women to die of oesophageal cancer and almost twice as likely to die from liver cancer.

The figures come from a new report produced by Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the Men’s Health Forum (MHF) and the National Cancer Intelligence Network, called “Excess cancer burden in men”, which is published on Tuesday at an MHF conference. It has prompted calls for men to adopt healthier lifestyles and the NHS to do more to spot cancer in men earlier.

“There are a variety of potential explanations for the difference. “The reasons for the increased risk of cancer in men versus women are not completely understood but experts believe that lifestyle is important. Men are more likely to drink alcohol and be overweight, and in the past they were more likely to smoke. All three are significant risk factors for a range of cancer types,” said a separate men’s cancer briefing, produced by CRUK and also released on Tuesday.

“Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said the stark difference was alarming. He highlighted late diagnosis as a key factor and cited the fact that 24% of men with prostate cancer visited their GP at least three times before their disease was identified, compared with 8% of women with breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Experience Survey. In 2011 CRUK estimated that 45% of all cancers in men could be prevented if men stopped smoking, ate a healthier diet, drank less and weighed less.”


For more, see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/jan/29/men-cancer-deaths-greater-women


Navy odor-sniffing robots

Aircraft carrier crews are likely to get rather pungent as they perform the hard tasks of assembling, loading and hauling the massive weaponry that gives the U.S. Navy its edge, says todays edition of DangerRoom.

“To make their lives easier, the Navy’s exploring the idea of developing a ‘robotic semiautonomous swarm on a ship’that can actually smell its way to weapons prep, thanks to an artificial pheromone. Conceptually, the project is somewhat similar to existing warehouse robots, which use optical navigation systems that recognize markings on floors and walls.Unknown-1 Except this research concept is a bit smellier. The Navy wants its defense-industry partners to “identify [a] chemical capable of meeting environmental and health requirements” which can act as a pheromone. Continue reading “Navy odor-sniffing robots”

Acting, disability, and visibility

Michael J Fox’s continuing role on “The Good Wife” and other programs has been a singular example of an actor willing to reveal a disabling illness, testifying to Fox’s professional commitment and his openness to disclosure.imgres-2

Both things are praiseworthy, but the latter is remarkably rare in a media economy so predicated on bodily perfection and endless youth. Ben Brantley writes in a recent New York Times review of several theater groups that are doing similar work, however – as they foreground forms of disability and “difference” among actors that typically never get revealed or seen on stage or screen. As Brantley writes,

“Theatergoers generally expect actors to abide by certain longstanding conventions, and if actors fail to oblige, it usually isn’t intentional. Continue reading “Acting, disability, and visibility”

Clean up that Facebook page

If the prospect of going back over years of Facebook posts to determine whether some of them should be hidden or photos untagged is daunting, webapp FaceWash can help. “The service scans your posts, timeline, and tagged photos to make sure nothing incriminating is going on, and warns you if it finds anything,” according to a post today on Lifehacker.

“The app requires access to your basic profile information, and while it asks for permission to post on your behalf (make sure to set those posts to be viewable by “only me”) when I tested the service it didn’t post anything. The scanning process only


takes a few minutes, more or less depending on how many public Facebook posts and tagged photos you have. When it’s done, you’ll see each category—photos you’re tagged in, photos you’ve posted, status updates, and so on—and whether or not they’re clean. Continue reading “Clean up that Facebook page”

School sports and disability rights

Recent federal action on school sports programs could do for disabled students what Title IX did for women and girls.


For the first time, federal officials are telling school districts that they must offer students with disabilities equal access to school sports, reports today’s edition of DisabilityScoop, continuing:

“In guidance issued Friday to districts across the country, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights said that children with disabilities have the right to participate in their school’s extracurricular activities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

“Accordingly, the agency said that students with intellectual, developmental, physical and other types of disabilities should be afforded opportunities to play for their school teams with modifications, aids and services as needed. Continue reading “School sports and disability rights”

Strong public support for women in combat

Nearly three-quarters of Americans say that, given the opportunity, they would vote “for” allowing women to serve in combat roles.These results are from a Gallup survey conducted just after U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the Pentagon is lifting the ban on women serving in direct combat. Gallup states that:”The findings, from a quick-reaction poll conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking on Jan. 24, also show that men and women are equally likely to favor allowing women to serve in combat roles.


“There are modest partisan differences. Democrats, including independents who lean Democratic, are more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to support allowing women to serve in combat — 83% vs. 70% — although clear majorities from both parties favor it. Those who are younger are more likely to favor the policy than are those who are older. Among those aged 18 to 49, 84% favor the policy, compared with 63% of those aged 50 and older — a difference of 21 percentage points. Continue reading “Strong public support for women in combat”

Free speech failing in Russia

Free-speech moved a little closer to extinction in Russia today, as legislators voted overwhelmingly


in favor of a measure criminalizing “homosexual propaganda. Meanwhile, protesters opposing the law are being arrested.

Russian police have detained 20 gay  rights campaigners and militant Orthodox Christian activists near parliament as politicians overwhelmingly backed a the proposed law. ”  “Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, voted 388-1-1 for the law that makes public events and the dissemination of information on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, community to minors punishable by fines of up to $16,000 (£10,000),” reports The Guardian.  “After two more readings, the bill will have to be signed by President Vladimir Putin.

“Earlier on Friday three dozen LGBT rights campaigners had gathered near the State Duma to protest against the law when militant Orthodox activists started assaulting and pelting them with eggs. Police intervened, but mostly detained the LGBT campaigners. At a similar rally on Tuesday Orthodox activists violently assaulted LGBT campaigners, who had gathered to kiss each other in protest against the planned legislation. Continue reading “Free speech failing in Russia”

France acts against slurs on Twitter

A French court on Thursday ordered Twitter Inc to help identify the authors of anti-Semitic posts or face fines of 1,000 euros ($1,300) per day, as the social network firm comes under renewed pressure to combat racist and extremist messages, reports the Jerusalem Post

“The order, requested by a Jewish student union and rights groups, concerned anti-Semitic material but could open the floodgates to legal pursuit of Twitter users who post a widerange of messages deemed illegal or offensive. ‘This is an excellent decision, which we hope will bring an end to the feeling of impunity that fuels the worst excesses,’ said Stephane Lilti, lawyer for the groups who sought the ruling. The anti-Semitic messages started appearing last October, and have since been deleted.imgres-2

“The Paris court gave privately-held Twitter, whose general policy is that it does not control content posted on its network, 15 days to hand over data identifying people who have published messages judged anti-Semitic. Continue reading “France acts against slurs on Twitter”

Apple stops using teen labor in China

imgres-2Apple said a Chinese labor agent forged documents on behalf of underage workers as the world’s most-valuable technology company seeks to improve conditions at suppliers making iPhones, iPads and Macs. Bloomberg News reports that

“The electronics company also stopped doing business with a manufacturer that employed 74 people younger than 16 who used the faked papers, according to its annual Supplier Responsibility Report released today. The recruiter was reported to provincial authorities, fined and had its license suspended. ‘Underage labor is a subject no company wants to be associated with, so as a result I don’t believe it gets the attention it deserves, and as a result it doesn’t get fixed like it should,’ Jeff Williams, Cupertino, California-based Apple’s senior vice president of operations, said in an interview. Continue reading “Apple stops using teen labor in China”

No more phone unlocking

After this upcoming weekend, you have to ask your phone company if you want to use the phone you (kind of) bought from them on any other carrier’s network.You used to be able to ask for, or purchase, or hack your way to an “unlocked” phone, but that will be illegal after Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013.


Lifehacker reports that “The Librarian of Congress believes cellphone companies are doing a good enough job of fostering competition in their market, so the era of third-party unlocking is coming to a close.

“Back in October 2012, the Librarian of Congress was asked by the Register of Copyrights to examine the exemptions made for certain classes of work under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA. I know what you may be thinking. “This Librarian, and this Register—do they live in giant vine-strewn towers? Do have any special powers if they leave Washington?” That is a good question, but first we must address other things. Continue reading “No more phone unlocking”

Pentagon scanning brains of dog recruits

Dogs do it all for the military: sniff for bombs, detect narcotics and rescue hapless humans. But to recruit the best canine squadmates, the Pentagon’s blue-sky researchers are working on a plan to scan their brains — and figure out how dogs think. Belly rubs won’t cut it anymore.

According to a new research solicitation from Darpa, the project — adorably called FIDOS, for “Functional Imaging to Develop Outstanding Service-Dogs” — touts the idea of using magnetic image resonators (or MRIs) to “optimize the selection of ideal service dogs” by scanning their brains to find the smartest candidates.imgres “Real-time neural feedback” will optimize canine training. That adds up to military pooches trained better, faster and — in theory — at a lower cost than current training methods of $20,000, using the old-fashioned methods of discipline-and-reward. Continue reading “Pentagon scanning brains of dog recruits”

Disney may be watching you

imgres-1Walt Disney Co. announced recently that it plans to unveil this spring at Walt Disney World in Florida a wristband embedded with radio frequency identification chips, reports a story in the Los Angeles Times.  A unique code in each chip lets parkgoers pay to enter the park, check into Disney hotels and buy food and souvenirs, among other things.

“Disney officials promoted the wristbands as a way to make visiting the park easier. The wristbands will let Disney use the data to customize future offerings and marketing pitches.Today a congressman from Massachusetts raised questions about how Disney will use information it collects when it gives parkgoers new wristbands embedded with computer chips. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass), who co-chairs a congressional panel on privacy, asked Walt Disney Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Robert A. Iger in a letter what information the park will collect with the so-called MagicBand and how it will be used.

“’Widespread use of MagicBand bracelets by park guests could dramatically increase the personal data Disney can collect about its guests,’ he said, adding that he is particularly concerned at the prospects of Disney collecting information about children. Disney officials say they have no plans yet to introduce the wristbands at Disneyland or Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim.


For more, see: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-disney-wrist-bands-20130126,0,4556564.story

Where the Apple falls

Not that everyone follows financial news, but dropping Apple stock prices have dampened enthusiasm about the company so many love (and others hate). Recent reactions could well result from a number of factors: the inevitable fall of any huge success, suspicions about the company without Steve Jobs, or simply the fickle nature of a stock market driven by flash-trading and emotion. Today’s Slate.com added a few more ideas:


“On Wednesday afternoon, Apple announced that during the last three months of 2012, it earned more money than any other non-oil company has ever earned in a single quarter. (Gazprom, Royal Dutch Shell, and ExxonMobil have each topped Apple’s earnings one time.) What’s more, during all of 2012, Apple’s profits topped $41.7 billion, which is also a record for any firm outside the oil industry. (ExxonMobil earned a few billion more in 2006, 2007, and 2008.) Continue reading “Where the Apple falls”

Body Mass Index Reconsidered

We know (or should know) just how subjective body image can be, and the psychic toll it takes on millions.


Advertising promotes a generalized message that there is something wrong with the way all of us look, with weight factoring in with all sorts of other things like complexion, age, hair, and height–as it zeros in on particular parts of us that need fixing. Today’s Wall Street Journal (of all places) carried an essay on just how wrong the BMI can be, excerpted briefly below:

“Some researchers say that while BMI improved on its predecessors, it fails to distinguish between different kinds of body mass and therefore can mislead about individuals’ health levels — a longstanding criticism of the measure that hasn’t prevented it from becoming the primary tool for grouping people into normal-weight, overweight and obese categories. Continue reading “Body Mass Index Reconsidered”